Christopher Cheung in The Tyee has prepared a  ten minute video featuring “Patrick Condon, chair of the urban design program at UBC’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, and Scot Hein, UBC’s urban designer and former senior planner at the City of Vancouver ” on a site visit reviewing some middle density projects.
Christopher defines and shows examples of what ‘gentle density’ can look like, acknowledging that many citizens may not know that it can be an unobtrusive addition to the landscape, and can blend in well enough to be relatively unread as  new infill. This gentle density provides part of the ‘missing middle’, the density between the well-known single family housing form and the more dense apartment tower. It is this blend of density being considered by the City as a way to provide denser form in Vancouver’s residential neighbourhoods.
It is well worth a view.



  1. On this issue I think Patrick Condon and Scott Hein are barking up the right tree. Kudos to them.
    The land area frozen in RS zone setbacks and open space requirements beyond allowable lot coverage in Vancouver is in the range of ~40 km2, if Condon’s number is correct (60% of the city’s land area). This fairly jives with Mountain Math’s numbers indicating that ~30% of housing rests on ~80% of residential land.
    Is it any wonder the political gimmick known as the foreign buyer’s tax didn’t perform as advertised and pulled prices down more than 30% even though sales decreased by half? We have a constrained land problem in the areas where the Missing Middle is best suited.
    There also has be a Strata Title Act escape clause out there waiting to be discovered. The answer may be in design where there are no vertical shared party walls. Attached freehold rowhouses are being held back by many things, and being handcuffed by a strata council is one of them.
    Koo’s Corner in Strathcona is a very cool development, the only one in the vid not on Vancouver’s west side. When you have a talented architect like Bruce Haden who shows how infill development can protect / enhance heritage and neighbourhood character, the story has a very satisfying ending. Bruce Haden also lives there, which is a demonstration of his commitment to good design solutions.

  2. There’s a house/live/work property on a 2,500 sq/ft lot in a mixed industrial/residential area at 2662 King St, Halifax, N.S. designed and built by architect/professor Susan Fitzgerald and built by her husband for themselves.
    This isn’t just a missing middle – it’s highly desirable, non-contextual, not blending in with the fabric of the neighbourhood, or any of that other pompous aesthetic architect speak.
    Koo’s Garage is Kool. Vancouver bunker basement houses are Krap. Heritage-look is comforting (to some), silly, and reactionary – faux, ersatz, and pastiche. Times change, materials change, processes change.

  3. Okay, so once these building forms are around, what are we going to call them? They won’t be missing anymore.

  4. The City of Vancouver and even mayor Gregor Robertson is, finally, moving away from the mass of 20+ storey towers and starting to use the expression ‘Missing Middle’, ie: mid-rise and low-rise density including town-homes but it’s taken a while.
    It was about four years ago that Scot Hein resigned from the city. This was soon after his department was ‘told’ to hide away medium-rise plans for the Safeway Grandview Woodlands site and area.
    “We absolutely did not support towers outside the focused “Safeway Precinct”. We were instructed to put this plan (in our view based on thoughtful urban design best practice) in the drawer never to see the light of day. We were then “told” by senior management to prepare a maximum tower scheme which we produced under protest as we declared we did not support such an uninformed approach for the GW neighbourhood. Our next plan yielded 20 towers which was advanced to the decision makers …”
    The mania for towers at Grandview Woodlands caused a complete breakdown of the relationship that the Vision administration had with its East Van supporters. Vision saw this and abandoned the plan.
    Density does not have to come from a forest of tall towers if one is considering a whole area. The city used to be proud of the Arbutus Neighbourhood where the max height is 8 floors. Here the density is 58 (units per acre), which was, fifteen years ago, greater in density than the 56 (upa) in Coal Harbour.
    It’s good to hear that Vision and mayor Robertson are now yapping about the missing middle but they certainly did not invent the concept. In fact, they seem to have ignored it for the past eight years they’ve been in power.

    1. I’m actually agreeing with you for a change, Eric.
      Your summary is accurate up to the point you omitted the Vision idea of an extensive Citizen’s Assembly consultation process where representative GW residents were asked to provide their own ideas, but who were also forced to confront their own biases when other density and zoning proposals were put forth for input. The end product seemed to be similar to the former Urban Design Studio’s plan, perhaps even a little denser if I’m not mistaken. The city changed a few things late in the day, but I don’t think that removed the resident’s seal of approval on the bigger picture.
      That was one of the best neighbourhood planning processes ever practiced, but it does tend to be time-consuming and expensive. In my view it’s worth it in long-established neighbourhoods.

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